Speech Technology Magazine

Loquendo Lends Its Voice to Virtual Assistant for Government Health Services

María, a new virtual assistant, provides free health information to Andalusian citizens 24/7.
By Leonard Klie - Posted May 18, 2010
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Loquendo has supplied its voice synthesis technology for a new e-health service deployed by Spain’s Junta de Andalucía Government Health Services. The service was developed by Indisys, a provider of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, cognitive science, and graphic design technologies and services, and Sadiel, a Spanish communications company.

According to María Jesús Montero, Health Andalucia’s chief officer, this new service, the first in the world, was developed through conversation—both speaking and listening—between the user and the virtual assistant. "It shows how innovation is incorporated to improve the public health system for its users," she said in a statement. 

'Maria' is part of Andalusia's digital health strategy, which also includes services like digital health history, the electronic recipe, the Health Telephone Answer service, the multimedia platform ‘Informarse.es,’ and the ‘Health Andalusia 24-hour service.

Visitors to Andalusia's health services Web site, at www.juntadeandalucia.es/salud/, type their questions into a text box, and Maria responds in both written and spoken form. She can address user’s concerns about making an appointment with a doctor via the Internet or provide information on baby care, influenza, sexually transmitted diseases, or post-coital pill use, among many other topics. She can also guide the patient through appointment scheduling, health center offerings, doctor availability, and other concerns. 

Though the application could also support speech recognition that would allow users to speak their requests rather then typing them, there are no immediate plans to incorporate such technologies into the current application, according to Pilar Manchon, CEO of Indisys.

"Virtual Assistant María’s most important accomplishment is bringing health services and information closer to all citizens," Manchon said in a statement. "She is living proof of how much can still be done and represents another step forward in the implementation of our new human-like interfaces."

Since going live in February, Maria has fielded more than 10,000 requests and booked more than 2,000 doctor appointments. The application has successfully recognized and understood 93 percent of all inputs, Manchon says.

Incorporating the speech output has enhanced "the overall quality of the solution and brought accessibility to it," she adds. "One of the advantages to the solution is that it's using natural language to its full extent."

Manchon further explains that Loquendo was chosen as the TTS and ASR solutions provider for the application "because its technology is extremely good, especially in the Spanish language" and the company offers "Unmatched quality, not just in the TTS but in how we can use it with our other technologies."

"We are delighted with the success of this important project for the Andalusian Health Service, creating an invaluable and high-quality Web assistant thanks to the considerable expertise of Indisys and Sadiel," Massimiliano Ferrero, Loquendo's EMEA sales manager, said in a statement. "The launch of this ground-breaking service reinforces Loquendo’s presence in the health sector, and further demonstrates the value and effectiveness of speech technologies in powering the latest generation of avatar-assisted Web portals."

Loquendo is a Telecom Italia company headquartered in Turin, Italy, with offices in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, France, and the United States.

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